SoCal Junior Amateur Golf Championship Boys and Girls RecapThe Southern California Junior Amateur Golf Championship is co-hosted by the SCGA and the SCPGA.
BOYS DIVISION – JADEN SOONG BREAKS THROUGH IN PLAYOFF FOR SOCAL JUNIOR AM TITLE
Jaden Soong was sitting on a hill next to the 18th green with his friends and family, watching everything unfold. He had already finished his second round of the SoCal Boys Junior Amateur Championship with a crucial par to retain his share of the lead at two-under.
Now, it was a waiting game to see if anyone else was going to join him in a playoff. In the group behind him, Will Tanaka and Eli Geddy were also sitting at two-under as they sized up their approach shots on the fairway of the 407-yard par-4. Geddy overshot the green but executed an impressive up and down to save par, punctuated with a fist pump after his 10-foot par putt snuck in, to advance to extra holes. Tanaka had a slightly less stressful journey to par as his approach landed on the bottom tier of the green, and he two-putted to set up a three-way playoff between Soong, Geddy, and Tanaka.
Going back to the 18th tee box as the sun was on the verge of setting, all three hammered their drives to the left side of the fairway, avoiding a set of bunkers that were planted dead straight. Tanaka and Geddy landed practically next to each other on the green, very similar to the landing spot of Tanaka’s approach on No. 18 in regulation. Soong was a couple of feet closer, though still on the bottom tier, looking at a left-to-right uphill putt for birdie.
Tanaka and Geddy left their birdie putts short, within ten feet. Soong nearly had the perfect read as his first putt burned the right edge of the cup, settling less than two feet from the hole. Soong tapped in for par, putting the pressure on Tanaka and Geddy to convert and continue the playoff. Geddy lipped out, and Tanaka just missed to the left, and as the three players were approaching their seventh hour on the course that day, a champion had finally been decided.
“It’s so exciting, and it’s just a really proud moment for me,” Soong said. “I’ve been working really hard on my whole game…so just knowing that all my work has paid off and winning this is incredible because you’re playing against some of the best juniors, so it’s awesome.”
Soong was threatening the top of the leaderboard from the start of the championship. When scoring conditions were more ideal on the first day, Soong shot a 68, his only mistake being a bogey on the final hole. That put him one stroke off the lead, which Geddy and Tanaka had occupied at five-under.
“The first day, I felt like my putting was really good,” Soong said. “The greens were a little bumpy, but I was still able to maintain good strokes, and I was rolling it really well.”
As conditions worsened thanks to heavy wind gusts on the second day, Soong had sensed the scoring opportunities were not going to be as prevalent as they were on day one. After a bogey on No. 4, he responded with two birdies on Nos. 6 and 8. His birdie on the par-3 8th gave him the solo lead at five-under. Soong would retain the lead at the top through most of the round despite a bogey on 14 that brought him back to four-under.
Holding a two-stroke lead as he approached the par-3 17th, Soong uncharacteristically carded a double-bogey, giving way to Geddy and Tanaka to get back in the mix.
“That was rough,” Soong said.
But a par on his final hole of regulation kept Soong in the fight, eventually leading to the one-hole playoff where he was the last man standing.
“I think today, conditions were really hard, so it was a struggle,” Soong said. “I’ve been working a lot on my mental game with my coach, Rick Sessinghaus, so knowing what I can do to maintain a steady head and not get too upset or too happy.”
The win comes months after Soong was one step away from qualifying for the U.S. Open at just 13 years old. He advanced to the final qualifying stage after earning a spot (in a playoff) at local qualifying at Brentwood CC. Now, he’s a champion amongst the best juniors in Southern California in a championship predominantly won by upcoming high school graduates.
Soong has also earned an exemption into both the 2024 SCGA Amateur and California Amateur championships. He finished T27 in the 2023 SCGA Amateur. The 2024 California Amateur at Sherwood CC will be his first appearance against the best amateurs in the state…at 14 years old.
“That’s really cool, I’m looking forward to that.”
GIRLS DIVISION – KATE HU GOES WIRE-TO-WIRE AT SOCAL JUNIOR AM
Kate Hu has never played well at Morongo GC, and she’ll be the first to say it.
“Every time I play at Morongo, I play really bad,” she said. “Previously, I couldn’t reach the greens and stuff, but this time I could, so it was easier.”
But it quickly became evident that history was not going to repeat itself for the San Diego native at the SoCal Girls Junior Amateur Championship on Sunday. Despite her previous difficulties on this course, she rose to the occasion and won her first SCGA title in wire-to-wire fashion.
“It feels really good,” Hu said. “It was really nice to play well here.”
She carded both of her rounds under par, standing as the only player in the field to do so, shooting 71-71 to best the field by four strokes.
Going up against the best junior golfers in the region, Hu quickly became a standout performer. After the first round, she found herself sharing the lead in the clubhouse with two other players at one-under. The second day brought increasingly challenging conditions, with the wind swirling heavily at Morongo GC’s Champions Course.
But Kate maintained a consistent pace, primarily relying on pars while minimizing mistakes. And she did just that, aside from a bogey on No. 14 which she promptly erased with two birdies in her last three holes.
“I really like No. 16 because I birdied that hole both days,” Hu said.
She finished the championship at two-under 142. Nikki Oh, who became the youngest ever to compete in the U.S. Women’s Amateur earlier this year, finished in second place at two-over alongside Eliana Saga.
In 36 holes, Hu carded only four bogeys. Her capacity to mitigate mistakes and maintain a steady performance while the rest of the field struggled to navigate the wind was a significant factor in her eventual win. Another key factor that set Kate apart from her competitors was her short game and putting, which came in handy with Morongo’s undulating and quick greens.
“I was really consistent,” Hu said. “My short game and putting were good. I made a lot of up and downs today, so that was good.”